And the moisture gathered again in Francis Markrute's eyes.
"Oh, my dear!" he said. "Will you forgive me some day for my hardness, for my arrogance to you both? I never knew, I never understood—until lately—what love could mean in a life. And you, Zara, yourself, dear child, can nothing be done for you and Tristram?"
At the mention of her husband's name Zara looked up, startled; and then a deeper tragedy than ever gathered in her eyes, as she rose.
"Let us speak of that no more, my uncle," she said. "Nothing can be done, because his love for me is dead. I killed it myself, in my ignorance. Nothing you or I can do is of any avail now—it is all too late."
And Francis Markrute could not speak. Her ignorance had been his fault, his only mistake in calculation, because he had played with souls as pawns in those days before love had softened him. And she made him no reproaches, when that past action of his had caused the finish of her life's happiness! Verily, his niece was a noble woman, and, with deepest homage, as he led her to the door he bent down and kissed her forehead; and no one in the world who knew him would have believed that she felt it wet with tears.
When she got to her room she remembered she still carried some note, and she at last looked at the superscription. It was in Tristram's writing. In spite of her grief and her numbness to other things it gave her a sharp emotion. She opened it quickly and read its few cold words. Then it seemed as if her knees gave way under her, as at Montfitchet that day when Laura Highford had made her jealous. She could not think clearly, nor fully understand their meaning; only one point stood out distinctly. He must see her to arrange for their separation. He had grown to hate her so much, then, that he could not any longer even live in the house with her, and all her grief of the day seemed less than this thought. Then she read it again. He knew all? Who could have told him? Her Uncle Francis? No, he did not himself know that Mirko was dead until she had told him. This was a mystery, but it was unimportant. Her numb brain could not grasp it yet. The main thing was that he was very angry with her for her deception of him: that, perhaps, was what was causing him finally to part from her. How strange it was that she was always punished for keeping her word and acting up to her principles! She did not think this bitterly, only with utter hopelessness. There was no use in her trying any longer; happiness was evidently not meant for her. She must just accept things—and life, or death, as it came. But how hard men were—she could never be so stern to any one for such a little fault, for any fault—stern and unforgiving as that strange God who wrote the Commandments.
And then she felt her cheeks suddenly burn, and yet she shivered; and when her maid came to her, presently, she saw that her mistress was not only deeply grieved, but ill, too. So she put her quickly to bed, and then went down to see Mr. Markrute.
"I think we must have a doctor, monsieur," she said. "Miladi is not at all well."
And Francis Markrute, deeply distressed, telephoned at once for his physician.
His betrothed had gone back to the country after luncheon, so he could not even have the consolation of her sympathy, and where Tristram was he did not know.
For the four following days Zara lay in her bed, seriously ill. She had caught a touch of influenza the eminent physician said, and had evidently had a most severe shock as well. But she was naturally so splendidly healthy that, in spite of grief and hopelessness, the following Thursday she was able to get up again. Francis Markrute thought her illness had been merciful in a way because the funeral had all been got over while she was confined to her room. Zara had accepted everything without protest. She had not desired even to see Mirko once more. She had no morbid fancies; it was his soul she loved and remembered, not the poor little suffering body.
It came to her as a comfort that her uncle and Mimo had met and shaken hands in forgiveness, and now poor Mimo was coming to say good-bye to her that afternoon.
He was leaving England at once, and would return to his own country and his people. In his great grief, and with no further ties, he hoped they would receive him. He had only one object now in life—to get through with it and join those he loved in some happier sphere.
This was the substance of what he said to Zara when he came; and they kissed and blessed one another, and parted, perhaps for ever. The "Apache" and the "London Fog," which would never be finished now he feared—the pain would be too great—would be sent to her to keep as a remembrance of their years of life together and the deep ties that bound them by the memory of those two graves.
And Zara in her weakness had cried for a long time after he had left.
And then she realized that all that part of her life was over now, and the outlook of what was to come held out no hope.
Francis Markrute had telegraphed to Wrayth, to try and find Tristram, but he was not there. He had not gone there at all. At the last moment he could not face it, he felt; he must go somewhere away alone—by the sea. A great storm was coming on—it suited his mood—so he had left even his servant in London and had gone off to a wild place on the Dorsetshire coast that he knew of, and there heard no news of any one. He would go back on the Friday, and see Zara the next day, as he had said he would do. Meanwhile he must fight his ghosts alone. And what ghosts they were!
Now on this Saturday morning Francis Markrute was obliged to leave his niece. His vast schemes required his attention in Berlin and he would be gone for a week, and then was going down to Montfitchet. Ethelrida had written Zara the kindest letters. Her fiance had told her all the pitiful story, and now she understood the tragedy in Zara's eyes, and loved her the more for her silence and her honor.
But all these thoughts seemed to be things of naught to the sad recipient of her letters, since the one and only person who mattered now in her life knew, also, and held different ones. He was aware of all, and had no sympathy or pity—only blame—for her. And now that her health was better and she was able to think, this ceaseless question worried her; how could Tristram possibly have known all? Had he followed her? As soon as she would be allowed to go out she would go and see Jenny, and question her.
And Tristram, by the wild sea—the storm like his mood had lasted all the time—came eventually to some conclusions. He would return and see his wife and tell her that now they must part, that he knew of her past and he would trouble her no more. He would not make her any reproaches, for of what use? And, besides, she had suffered enough. He would go abroad at once, and see his mother for a day at Cannes, and tell her his arrangements, and that Zara and he had agreed to part—he would give her no further explanations—and then he would go on to India and Japan. And, after this, his plans were vague. It seemed as if life were too impossible to look ahead, but not until he could think of Zara with calmness would he return to England.
And if Zara's week of separation from him had been grief and suffering, his had been hell.
On the Saturday morning, after her uncle had started for Dover, a note, sent by hand, was brought to Zara. It was again only a few words, merely to say if it was convenient to her, he—Tristram—would come at two o'clock, as he was motoring down to Wrayth at three, and was leaving England on Monday night.
Her hand trembled too much to write an answer.
"Tell the messenger I will be here," she said; and she sat then for a long time, staring in front of her.
Then a thought came to her. Whether she were well enough or no she must go and question Jenny. So, to the despair of her maid, she wrapped herself in furs and started. She felt extremely faint when she got into the air, but her will pulled her through, and when she got there the little servant put her doubts at rest.
Yes, a very tall, handsome gentleman had come a few minutes after herself, and she had taken him up, thinking he was the doctor.
"Why, missus," she said, "he couldn't have stayed a minute. He come away while the Count was playin' his fiddle."
So this was how it was! Her thoughts were all in a maze: she could not reason. And when she got back to the Park Lane house she felt too feeble to go any further, even to the lift.
Her maid came and took her furs from her, and she lay on the library sofa, after Henriette had persuaded her to have a little chicken broth; and then she fell into a doze, and was awakened only by the sound of the electric bell. She knew it was her husband coming, and sat up, with a wildly beating heart. Her trembling limbs would not support her as she rose for his entrance, and she held on by the back of a chair.
And, grave and pale with the torture he had been through, Tristram came into the room.
He stopped dead short when he saw her so white and fragile looking. Then he exclaimed, "Zara—you have been ill!"
"Yes," she faltered.
"Why did they not tell me?" he said hurriedly, and then recollected himself. How could they? No one, not even his servant, knew where he had been.
She dropped back unsteadily on the sofa.
"Uncle Francis did telegraph to you, to Wrayth, but you were not there," she said.
He bit his lips—he was so very moved. How was he to tell her all the things he had come to say so coldly, with her looking so pitiful, so gentle? His one longing was to take her to his heart and comfort her, and make her forget all pain.
And she was so afraid of her own weakness, she felt she could not bear to hear her death-knell, yet. If she could only gain a little time! It was characteristic of her that she never dreamed of defending herself. She still had not the slightest idea that he suspected Mimo of being her lover. Tristram's anger with her was just because he was an Englishman—very straight and simple—who could brook no deception! that is what she thought.
If she had not been so lately and so seriously ill—if all her fine faculties had been in their full vigor—perhaps some idea might have come to her; but her soul was so completely pure it did not naturally grasp such things, so even that is doubtful.
"Tristram—" she said, and there was the most piteous appeal in her tones, which almost brought the tears to his eyes. "Please—I know you are angry with me for not telling you about Mirko and Mimo, but I had promised not to, and the poor, little one is dead. I will tell you everything presently, if you wish, but don't ask me to now. Oh! if you must go from me soon—you know best—I will not keep you, but—but please won't you take me with you to-day—back to Wrayth—just until I get quite well? My uncle is away, and I am so lonely, and I have not any one else on earth."
Her eyes had a pleading, frightened look, like a child's who is afraid to be left alone in the dark.
He could not resist her. And, after all, her sin was of long ago—she could have done nothing since she had been his wife—why should she not come to Wrayth? She could stay there if she wished, for a while after he had gone. Only one thing he must know.
"Where is Count Sykypri?" he asked hoarsely.
"Mimo has gone away, back to his own country," she said simply, wondering at his tone. "Alas! I shall perhaps never see him again."
A petrifying sensation of astonishment crept over Tristram. With all her meek gentleness she had still the attitude of a perfectly innocent person. It must be because she was only half English, and foreigners perhaps had different points of reasoning on all such questions.
The man had gone, then—out of her life. Yes, he would take her back to Wrayth if it would be any comfort to her.
"Will you get ready now?" he said, controlling his voice into a note of sternness which he was far from feeling. "Because I am sure you ought not to be out late in the damp air. I was going in the open car, and to drive myself, and it takes four hours. The closed one is not in London, as you know." And then he saw she was not fit for this, so he said anxiously, "But are you sure you ought to travel to-day at all? You look so awfully pale."
For there was a great difference in her present transparent, snowy whiteness, with the blue-circled eyes, to her habitual gardenia hue; even her lips were less red.
"Yes, yes, I am quite able to go," she said, rising to show him she was all right. "I will be ready in ten minutes. Henriette can come by train with my things." And she walked towards the door, which he held open for her. And here she paused, and then went on to the lift. He followed her quickly.
"Are you sure you can go up alone?" he asked anxiously. "Or may I come?"
"Indeed, I am quite well," she answered, with a little pathetic smile. "I will not trouble you. Wait, I shall not be long." And so she went up.
And when she came down again, all wrapped in her furs, she found Tristram had port wine ready for her, poured out.
"You must drink this—a big glass of it," he said; and she took it without a word.
Then when they got to the door she found instead of his own open motor he had ordered one of her uncle's closed ones, which with footwarmer and cushions was waiting, so that she should be comfortable and not catch further cold.
"Thank you—that is kind of you," she said.
He helped her in, and the butler tucked the fur rug over them, while Tristram settled the cushions. Then she leaned back for a second and closed her eyes—everything was going round.
He was very troubled about her. She must have been very ill, even in the short time—and then her grief,—for, even though she had been so much separated from it, a mother always loves her child. Then this thought hurt him again. He hated to remember about the child.
She lay there back against the pillows until they had got quite out of London, without speaking a word. The wine in her weak state made her sleepy, and she gradually fell into a doze, and her head slipped sideways and rested against Tristram's shoulder, and it gave him a tremendous thrill—her beautiful, proud head with its thick waves of hair showing under her cap.
He was going to leave her so soon, and she would not know it—she was asleep—he must just hold her to him a little; she would be more comfortable like that. So, with cautious care not to wake her, he slipped his arm under the cushion, and very gently and gradually drew her into his embrace, so that her unconscious head rested upon his breast.
And thus more than two hours of the journey were accomplished.
And what thoughts coursed through his brain as they went!
He loved her so madly. What did it matter how she had sinned? She was ill and lonely, and must stay in his arms—just for to-day. But he could never really take her to his heart—the past was too terrible for that. And, besides, she did not love him; this gentleness was only because she was weak and crushed, for the time. But how terribly, bitterly sweet it was, all the same! He had the most overpowering temptation to kiss her, but he resisted it; and presently, when they came to a level crossing and a train gave a wild whistle, she woke with a start. It was quite dark now, and she said, in a frightened voice, "Where am I? Where have I been?"
Tristram slipped his arm from round her instantly, and turned on the light.
"You are in the motor, going to Wrayth," he said. "And I am glad to say you have been asleep. It will do you good."
She rubbed her eyes.
"Ah! I was dreaming. And Mirko was there, too, with Maman, and we were so happy!" she said, as if to herself.
"Are we near home—I mean, Wrayth?" she asked.
"Not quite yet," he answered. "There will be another hour and a half."
"Need we have the light on?" she questioned. "It hurts my eyes."
He put it out, and there they sat in the growing darkness, and did not speak any more for some time; and, bending over her, he saw that she had dozed off again. How very weak she must have been!
He longed to take her into his arms once more, but did not like to disturb her—she seemed to have fallen into a comfortable position among the pillows—so he watched over her tenderly, and presently they came to the lodge gates of Wrayth, and the stoppage caused her to wake and sit up.
"It seems I had not slept for so long," she said, "and now I feel better. It is good of you to let me come with you. We are in the park, are we not?"
"Yes, we shall be at the door in a minute."
And then she cried suddenly,
"Oh! look at the deer!" For a bold and valiant buck, startled and indignant at the motor lights, was seen, for an instant, glaring at them as they flashed past.
"You must go to bed as soon as you have had some tea," Tristram said, "after this long drive. It is half-past six. I telegraphed to have a room prepared for you. Not that big state apartment you had before, but one in the other part of the house, where we live when we are alone; and I thought you would like your maid next you, as you have been ill."
"Thank you," she whispered quite low.
How kind and thoughtful he was being to her! She was glad she had been ill!
Then they arrived at the door, and this time they turned to the left before they got to the Adam's hall, and went down a corridor to the old paneled rooms, and into his own sitting-room where it was all warm and cozy, and the tea-things were laid out. She already looked better for her sleep; some of the bluish transparency seemed to have left her face.
She had not been into this room on her inspection of the house. She liked it best of all, with its scent of burning logs and good cigars. And Jake snorted by the fire with pleasure to see his master, and she bent and patted his head.
But everything she did was filling Tristram with fresh bitterness and pain. To be so sweet and gentle now when it was all too late!
He began opening his letters until the tea came. There were the telegrams from Francis Markrute, sent a week before to say Zara was ill, and many epistles from friends. And at the end of the pile he found a short note from Francis Markrute, as well. It was written the day before, and said that he supposed he, Tristram, would get it eventually; that Zara had had a very sad bereavement which he felt sure she would rather tell him about herself, and that he trusted, seeing how very sad and ill she had been, that Tristram would be particularly kind to her. So her uncle knew, then! This was incredible: but perhaps Zara had told him, in her first grief.
He glanced up at her; she was lying back in a great leather chair now, looking so fragile and weary, he could not say what he intended. Then Jake rose leisurely and put his two fat forepaws up on her knees and snorted as was his habit when he approved of any one. And she bent down and kissed his broad wrinkles.
It all looked so homelike and peaceful! Suddenly scorching tears came into Tristram's eyes and he rose abruptly, and walked to the window. And at that moment the servants brought the teapot and the hot scones.
She poured the tea out silently, and then she spoke a little to Jake, just a few silly, gentle words about his preference for cakes or toast. She was being perfectly adorable, Tristram thought, with her air of pensive, subdued sorrow, and her clinging black dress.
He wished she would suggest going to her room. He could not bear it much longer.
She wondered why he was so restless. And he certainly was changed; he looked haggard and unhappy, more so even than before. And then she remembered how radiantly strong and splendid he had appeared, at dinner on their wedding night, and a lump rose in her throat.
"Henriette will have arrived by now," she said in a few minutes. "If you will tell me where it is I will go to my room."
He got up, and she followed him.
"I expect you will find it is the blue, Chinese damask one just at the top of these little stairs." Then he strode on in front of her quickly, and called out from the top, "Yes, it is, and your maid is here."
And as she came up the low, short steps, they met on the turn, and stopped.
"Good night," he said. "I will have some soup and suitable things for an invalid sent up to you; and then you must sleep well, and not get up in the morning. I shall be very busy to-morrow. I have a great many things to do before I go on Monday. I am going away for a long time."
She held on to the banisters for a minute, but the shadows were so deceiving, with all the black oak, that he was not sure what her expression said. Her words were a very low "Thank you—I will try to sleep. Good night."
And she went up to her room, and Tristram went on, downstairs—a deeper ache than ever in his heart.
It was not until luncheon time that Zara came down, next day. She felt he did not wish to see her, and she lay there in her pretty, old, quaint room, and thought of many things, and the wreck of their lives, above all. And she thought of Mirko and her mother, and the tears came to her eyes. But that grief was past, in its bitterness; she knew it was much better so.
The thought of Tristram's going tore her very soul, and swallowed up all other grief.
"I cannot, cannot bear it!" she moaned to herself.
He was sitting gazing into the fire, when she timidly came into his sitting-room. She had been too unhappy to sleep much and was again looking very pale.
He seemed to speak to her like one in a dream. He was numb with his growing misery and the struggle in his mind: he must leave her—the situation was unendurable—he could not stay, because in her present softened mood it was possible that if he lost control of himself and caressed her she might yield to him; and, then, he knew no resolutions on earth could hold him from taking her to his heart. And she must never really be his wife. The bliss of it might be all that was divine at first, but there would be always the hideous skeleton beneath, ready to peep out and mock at them: and then if they should have children? They were both so young that would be sure to happen; and this thought, which had once, in that very room, in his happy musings, given him so much joy, now caused him to quiver with extra pain. For a woman with such a background should not be the mother of a Tancred of Wrayth.
Tristram was no Puritan, but the ingrained pride in his old name he could not eliminate from his blood. So he kept himself with an iron reserve. He never once looked at her, and spoke as coldly as ice; and they got through luncheon. And Zara said, suddenly, she would like to go to church.
It was at three o'clock, so he ordered the motor without a word. She was not well enough to walk there through the park.
He could not let her go alone, so he changed his plans and went with her. They did not speak, all the way.
She had never been into the church before, and was struck with the fine windows, and the monuments of the Guiscards, and the famous tomb of the Crusader in the wall of the chancel pew where they sat; and all through the service she gazed at his carven face, so exactly like Tristram's, with the same, stern look.
And a wild, miserable rebellion filled her heart, and then a cold fear; and she passionately prayed to God to protect him. For what if he should go on some dangerous hunting expedition, and something should happen, and she should never see him again! And then, as she stood while they sang the final hymn, she stopped and caught her breath with a sob. And Tristram glanced at her in apprehension, and he wondered if he should have to suffer anything further, or if his misery were at its height.
The whole congregation were so interested to see the young pair, and they had to do some handshakings, as they came out. What would all these good people think, Tristram wondered with bitter humor, when they heard that he had gone away on a long tour, leaving his beautiful bride alone, not a month after their marriage? But he was past caring what they thought, one way or another, now.
Zara went to her room when they got back to the house, and when she came down to tea he was not there, and she had hers alone with Jake.
She felt almost afraid to go to dinner. It was so evident he was avoiding her. And while she stood undecided her maid brought in a note:
"I ask you not to come down—I cannot bear it. I will see you to-morrow morning, before I go, if you will come to my sitting-room at twelve."
That was all.
And, more passionately wretched than she had ever been in her life, she went to bed.
She used the whole strength of her will to control herself next morning. She must not show any emotion, no matter how she should feel. It was not that she had any pride left, or would not have willingly fallen into his arms; but she felt no woman could do so, unsolicited and when a man plainly showed her he held her in disdain.
So it was, with both their hearts breaking, they met in the sitting-room.
"I have only ten minutes," he said constrainedly. "The motor is at the door. I have to go round by Bury St. Edmunds; it is an hour out of my way, and I must be in London at five o'clock, as I leave for Paris by the night mail. Will you sit down, please, and I will be as brief as I can."
She fell, rather than sank, into a chair. She felt a singing in her ears; she must not faint—she was so very weak from her recent illness.
"I have arranged that you stay here at Wrayth until you care to make fresh arrangements for yourself," he began, averting his eyes, and speaking in a cold, passionless voice. "But if I can help it, after I leave here to-day I will never see you again. There need be no public scandal; it is unnecessary that people should be told anything; they can think what they like. I will explain to my mother that the marriage was a mistake and we have agreed to part—that is all. And you can live as you please and I will do the same. I do not reproach you for the ruin you have brought upon my life. It was my own fault for marrying you so heedlessly. But I loved you so—!" And then his voice broke suddenly with a sob, and he stretched out his arms wildly.
"My God!" he cried, "I am punished! The agony of it is that I love you still, with all my soul—even though I saw them with my own eyes—your lover and—your child!"
Here Zara gave a stifled shriek, and, as he strode from the room not daring to look at her for fear of breaking his resolution, she rose unsteadily to her feet and tried to call him. But she gasped and no words would come. Then she fell back unconscious in the chair.
He did not turn round, and soon he was in the motor and gliding away as though the hounds of hell were after him, as, indeed, they were, from the mad pain in his heart.
And when Zara came to herself it was half an hour later, and he was many miles away.
She sat up and found Jake licking her hands.
Then remembrance came back. He was gone—and he loved her even though he thought her—that!
She started to her feet. The blood rushed back to her brain. She must act.
She stared around, dazed for a moment, and then she saw the time tables—the Bradshaw and the A.B.C. She turned over the leaves of the latter with feverish haste. Yes, there was a train which left at 2:30 and got to London at half-past five; it was a slow one—the express which started at 3:30, did not get in until nearly six. That might be too late—both might be too late, but she must try. Then she put her hand to her head in agony. She did not know where he had gone. Would he go to his mother's, or to his old rooms in St. James's Street? She did not know their number.
She rang the bell and asked that Michelham should come to her.
The old servant saw her ghastly face, and knew from Higgins that his master intended going to Paris that night. He guessed some tragedy had happened between them, and longed to help.
"Michelham," she said, "his lordship has gone to London. Do you know to what address? I must follow him—it is a matter of life and death that I see him before he starts for Paris. Order my motor for the 2:30 train—it is quicker than to go by car all the way."
"Yes, my lady," Michelham said. "Everything will be ready. His lordship has gone to his rooms, 460 St. James's Street. May I accompany your ladyship? His lordship would not like your ladyship to travel alone."
"Very well," she said. "There is no place anywhere, within driving distance that I could catch a train that got in before, is there?"
"No, my lady; that will be the soonest," he said. "And will your ladyship please to eat some luncheon? There is an hour before the motor will be round. I know your ladyship's own footman, James, should go with your ladyship, but if it is something serious, as an old servant, and, if I may say so, a humble and devoted friend of his lordship's, I would beg to accompany your ladyship instead."
"Yes, yes, Michelham," said Zara, and hurried from the room.
She sent a telegram when at last she reached the station—to the St. James's Street rooms.
"What you thought was not true. Do not leave until I come and explain. I am your own Zara."
Then the journey began—three hours of agony, with the constant stoppages, and the one thought going over and over in her brain. He believed she had a lover and a child, and yet he loved her! Oh, God! That was love, indeed!—and she might not be in time.
But at last they arrived—Michelham and she—and drove to Tristram's rooms.
Yes, his lordship had been expected at five, but had not arrived yet; he was late. And Michelham explained that Lady Tancred had come, and would wait, while he himself went round to Park Lane to see if Lord Tancred had been there.
He made up a splendid fire in the sitting-room, and, telling Higgins not to go in and disturb her even with tea, the kind old man started on his quest—much anxiety in his mind.
Ten minutes passed, and Zara felt she could hardly bear the suspense. The mad excitement had kept her up until now. What if he were so late that he went straight to the train? But then she remembered it went at nine—and it was only six. Yes, he would surely come.
She did not stir from her chair, but her senses began to take in the room. How comfortable it was, and what good taste, even with the evidences of coming departure about! She had seen two or three telegrams lying on the little hall table, waiting for him, as she came in—hers among the number, she supposed. A motor stopped, surely!—Ah! if it should be he! But there were hundreds of such noises in St. James's Street, and it was too dark and foggy to see. She sat still, her heart beating in her throat. Yes, there was the sound of a latch key turning in the lock! And, after stopping to pick up his telegrams, Tristram, all unexpecting to see any one, entered the room.
She rose unsteadily to meet him, as he gave an exclamation of surprise and—yes—pain.
"Tristram!" she faltered. It seemed as if her voice had gone again, and the words would make no sound. But she gathered her strength, and, with pitiful pleading, stretched out her arms.
"Tristram—I have come to tell you—I have never had a lover: Mimo was at last married to Maman. He was her lover, and Mirko was their child—my little brother. My uncle did not wish me to tell you this for a time, because it was the family disgrace." Then, as he made a step forward to her, with passionate joy in his face, she went on:
"Tristram! You said, that night—before you would ever ask me to be your wife again, I must go down upon my knees—See—I do!—for Oh!—I love you!" And suddenly she bent and knelt before him, and bowed her proud head.
But she did not stay in this position a second, for he clasped her in his arms, and rained mad, triumphant kisses upon her beautiful, curved lips, while he murmured,
"At last—my Love—my own!"
* * * * *
Then when the delirium of joy had subsided a little,—with what tenderness he took off her hat and furs, and drew her into his arms, on the sofa before the fire.—The superlative happiness to feel her resting there, unresisting, safe in his fond embrace, with those eyes, which had been so stormy and resentful, now melting upon him in softest passion.
It seemed heaven to them both. They could not speak coherent sentences for a while—just over and over again they told each other that they loved.—It seemed as if he could not hear her sweet confession often enough—or quench the thirst of his parched soul upon her lips.
Then the masterfulness in him which Zara now adored asserted itself. He must play with her hair! He must undo it, and caress its waves, to blot out all remembrance of how its forbidden beauty had tortured him.—And she just lay there in his arms, in one of her silences, only her eyes were slumberous with love.
But at last she said, nestling closer,
"Tristram, won't you listen to the story that I must tell you? I want there never to be any more mysteries between us again—"
And, to content her, he brought himself back to earth—
"Only I warn you, my darling," he said, "all such things are side issues for me now that at last we have obtained the only thing which really matters in life—we know that we love each other, and are not going to be so foolish as to part again for a single hour—if we can help it—for the rest of time."
And then his whole face lit up with radiant joy, and he suddenly buried it in her hair. "See," he inurmured, "I am to be allowed to play with this exquisite net to ensnare my heart; and you are not to be allowed to spend hours in state rooms—alone! Oh! darling! How can I listen to anything but the music of your whispers, when you tell me you love me and are my very own!"
Zara did, however, finally get him to understand the whole history from beginning to end. And when he heard of her unhappy life, and her mother's tragic story, and her sorrow and poverty, and her final reason for agreeing to the marriage, and how she thought of men, and then of him, and all her gradual awakening into this great love, there grew in him a reverent tenderness.
"Oh! my sweet—my sweet!" he said. "And I dared to be suspicious of you and doubt you, it seems incredible now!"
Then he had to tell his story—of how reasonable his suspicions looked, and, in spite of them, of his increasing love. And so an hour passed with complete clearing up of all shadows, and they could tenderly smile together over the misunderstandings which had nearly caused them to ruin both their lives.
"And to think, Tristram," said Zara, "a little common sense would have made it all smooth!"
"No, it was not that," he answered fondly, with a whimsical smile in his eyes, "the troubles would never have happened at all if I had only not paid the least attention to your haughty words in Paris, nor even at Dover, but had just continued making love to you; all would have been well!—However," he added joyously, "we will forget dark things, because to-morrow I shall take you back to Wrayth, and we shall have our real honeymoon there in perfect peace."
And, as her lips met his, Zara whispered softly once more,
"Tu sais que je t'aime!"
* * * * *
Oh! the glorious joy of that second home-coming for the bridal pair! To walk to all Tristram's favorite haunts, to wander in the old rooms, and plan out their improvements, and in the late afternoons to sit in the firelight in his own sitting-room, and make pictures of their future joys together. Then he would tell her of his dreams, which once had seemed as if they must turn to Dead Sea fruit, but were now all bright and glowing with glad promise of fulfillment.
His passionate delight in her seemed as if it could not find enough expression, as he grew to know the cultivation of her mind and the pure thoughts of her soul.—And her tenderness to him was all the sweeter in its exquisite submission, because her general mien was so proud.
They realized they had found the greatest happiness in this world, and with the knowledge that they had achieved their desires, after anguish and pain, they held it next their hearts as heaven's gift.
And when they went to Montfitchet again, to spend that Christmas, the old Duke was satisfied!
* * * * *
Now, all this happened two years ago. And on the second anniversary of the Tancred wedding Mr. Francis and Lady Ethelrida Markrute dined with their nephew and niece.
And when they came to drinking healths, bowing to Zara her uncle raised his glass and said,
"I propose a toast, that I prophesied I would, to you, my very dear niece—the toast of four supremely happy people!"
And as they drank, the four joined hands.